So, I just got home from a weekend show in New Buffalo, MI called "Artigras." The show itself is only 4 years old and Amy Amdur ran it for the first 2 years. Last year (2014) she couldn't find enough artists willing to pay her booth fee, so she just bailed on the show, leaving the New Buffalo Business Association (NBBA) and the artists in the lurch. A veteran artist was finally able to pull a small show together on the main street in this beach town and saved the NBBA a great deal of embarrassment by collecting only $25 from each artist for a booth fee. By all comments I collected, the show wasn't terrible and there was great foot traffic all weekend and fairly good sales for the artists.
Unfortunately, the 2015 Artigras has a far darker story. The NBBA took over the show and moved it off Whitaker St. to a small park by the beach. The application process was easy enough and the booth fee was reasonable at $100. What we were not aware of, was that parking was very limited and the lucky few who got a spot in the beach lot paid $10 to park. There was also a $5/head fee to get into the art fair. This was a 'suggested donation' but the people at the front gate shamed people into paying and many chose not to come in.
At the back gate, there was a state owned parking lot for the boat launch, but you couldn't park there unless you had a boat trailer. The lot was huge and all but empty. I was told by the NBBA that they couldn't let people park there because the state wouldn't allow it.....that was a real shame. To make things worse, when people came to that gate on foot, the police told them they had to walk all the way around to the front gate and they "had to pay," which simply wasn't true. So, a family of 4 got suckered into paying $30 before they even looked at a single piece of art.
The artists had plenty of time to kibbitz because there was NO traffic. We tried talking to the guard at the back gate to let him know that he shouldn't be turning people away; that he was there to monitor the parking, not to keep our customers away. Right after that conversation, I had a visit from the NBBA person, who told me she had instructed the guard. When I continued my protest (on behalf of every other artist I spoke with,) I was met with, "yeah, but we're a non-profit...." I simply said that we all would have been happy to pay a little more for our booth fee in exchange for free admission and better traffic.... more arguing from her and not a drop of empathy. I finally got really angry and dismissed her with a 'talk to the hand' gesture.
Part of my anger was born of frustration...lack of traffic, terrible sales, rude people, disappointed artists and finally, the very organization that is supposed to be helping us achieve a good show, is the very entity that thwarted our efforts. And, to add insult to injury, we were ALL lied to...they touted their pre-show marketing (there was none,) they made no mention of the entry fee in their pre-show info, and finally, late Sunday, the organizer lied about the attendance and said they had 2,500 head count for the weekend. ALL of us agreed that it felt more like 500, if that.
Oh....but they gave us lunch vouchers. Pretty expensive $100 lunch, I'd say. I also told people who came into my booth that I would pay for their parking if they spent over $100 in my booth. I think that's the only reason I had 2 customers on Sunday.
ALL the artists I spoke to had an awful show. We ALL agreed that the show was in the wrong location without any parking. We ALL agreed that pressuring people to pay at the gate was hurting the attendance. We ALL believe the show should've stayed on Whitaker St. where foot traffic is non-stop. NONE of the artists I talked with are coming back next year.